Caregiver support is not limited to formal support groups
by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR
Caring for someone who is chronically ill is physically and emotionally demanding. It helps to remember that, as a carer, you are not alone. Resources, support and caregiver information are readily available, including through support groups and online. It may come as a surprise to discover that your support may come in a manner you least expect.
A Caregiver is as a Caregiver Does
Not every caregiver recognizes, or is willing to publicly admit, that he or she is providing assistive care to someone who is chronically ill. In some instances, the carer is not intentionally withholding the information. Sometimes the scope of assistive support may be so limited that it doesn't quite sink in that you are providing assistive care to an elder.
It may be as simple as giving in to your instinct to call, visit or check on an elderly neighbor once a week simply because you know that your neighbor has no relatives who live locally. You may occasionally offer to take your neighbor to the store, or get groceries while you are at the store, or may provide a ride to a scheduled doctor's appointment. You may arrange for a handyman to assist your elderly neighbor with general home maintenance.
The fact that you are mindful of an elder's welfare to such an extent may be a clue that you are providing some caregiving support. Sometimes it's an in-law, aunt, uncle or grandparent of yours, and you really don't give it a second thought until someone else in your life refers to you as a caregiver.
The light bulb finally goes on for you. Even if little things you do take no more than a couple hours out of your time each week, you may be a caregiver. Funny how you are able to clearly see many of your other life roles, including employee, spouse, adult child, perhaps church member, parent, commuter, taxpayer and so much more. It's just that the caregiver role sometimes sneaks up on some of us, especially when our tasks and care commitment may not be initially time consuming.
Once you are aware, the greatest news may be realizing that you need not be alone. In fact, it is best to be aware of how much support there is for carers.
Family and Friends
If you have been providing assistive support to a relative, or anyone else, and feel comfortable doing so, let your closest family and friends know. If nothing else, being able to share what you are doing may be therapeutic and will help you think outside the box. You may be doing more than you realize until you get that reality check from a friend or family member.
If you are keeping a watchful eye over an elder who is not related to you, your family and friends may help you to steer clear of becoming overly involved. In such circumstances, it may be best to seek social service intervention for the elder sooner, rather than later, if the individual has no local family support.
Your Primary Care Doctor
Being a caregiver comes with its own stress and challenges. Prolonged stress is known to have an effect on individuals' health. Don't put your own health needs on a back burner.
- Have you done any lifting? What is the safest way to lift another person?
- Should you get an annual flu shot?
Be sure that your doctor knows that you are a caregiver. Your doctor will be another reality checkpoint in your life.
Don't Stop Planning Your Life and Future
Before you started caregiving, you had a life. There will come a day when your caregiving will end. When that day comes, your life needs to go on. The only way our lives can go on is if, each day, we remember to dream and set goals for tomorrow.
I know. Tomorrow may never come. I am also a huge proponent of living our carers' lives one step at a time. That said, I'm counting on enjoying many tomorrows even as I enjoy and cherish today's precious moments. Living in the here and now is not mutually exclusive with planning for one's future.
When the last day of my caregiving inevitably comes, my heart will be sad but above the clouds, the sun will still be shining. It always does. I'll try to remember that.
Carers Support Each Other Informally
My friends and I are on the cutting-edge of informal telephone support calls between and among our little circle of caregivers. We happen to be long-time friends. Increasingly, when I speak with some of my friends, they are walking a mile in caregivers' shoes.
These are friends whom I have known forever. They also know my beloved Mom and I know their aging parents and other elder loved ones. Now, instead of crying on each others' shoulders about our parents' declining health, we have strengthened our bonds of friendship with increasing moments of levity and heavy-duty laughter. We call each other more frequently these days. Our telephone conversations last much longer and include at least one moment of eldercare hilarity.
A few of my friends have lost a parent in the past year, or two. They, too, are part of the informal telephone support group network of caregiver forever friends. The calls are an added source of informal support I would never have expected. It should have been obvious to me, but it was not.
We are forever friends, first. We are also Baby Boomers growing older together thinking about pretty much the same things. We laughed before our parents' health started declining. We still enjoy poking fun at every little thing in our lives, be it our elders' care or how we occasionally become stuck on the floor and find it challenging to get back up. Not good, but funny, for some of us - at least for now. We're the stand-up comedic generation, apparently?
Our parents are still our respected elders. These days, however, our parents are less vocal. They seem to enjoy listening to us laugh with each other as they sit nearby on the sidelines, listening to every word and every joke. "They must be twins," we say to each other of our parents' elder-antics. Mom usually chimes in to plead the fifth when I share some of her stories. More laughter guaranteed for all involved.
As my friends and I visit, sometimes in person, and increasingly via our informal therapeutic telephone calls, Mom sits smiling, sometimes cracking up, whenever she hears my friends and me enjoying our rowdy selves, just as we always have.
It's almost as good as the good old days. That's pretty good, now that I am thinking about it. I'm smiling as I write. How can that be a bad thing?